Tag Archives: singing

3 Songs I sing LOUD!!!

I love music. I love singing. I love hearing stories. I love telling stories. In my mind all these things are part of the same unique human urge. I have referred to this belief in various posts about music, earworms and songs: Needles and Plastic, Songs of September, Quiet Loud Listen Sing, It Was 30 Years Ago…, A Curious Thing, and Music Is A Story.

But this post isn’t about earworms, my crackpot theories or those songs. It’s about three songs I sang repeatedly (and loudly) as I drove the 20 kms into (or from) work in the lead up to Christmas. I loved singing them. They both expressed joy (and caused it), salved pain and cured tiredness. Each time that I sang them (at the top of my voice, with maximum passion), oblivious to any looks from fellow commuters I found something new in some part of the musical composition or production, in the lyrics or vocal expression.

stock-footage-man-singing-and-dancing-happy-driving-car-in-city

Not my car. Not my song. Probably not me.

Primal-Scream-at-The-Regency-Ballroom-shot-by-Jason-Miller-@Jasonmillerca-21

Exactly what I look like

What’s more, even though the three songs ended up quite randomly at the start of my ‘Singlesman’ playlist and came from three different decades and musical genres, they slowly revealed themselves to have very striking similarities.

Song #1 is from 1971, Aire of Good Feeling by Wellington band The Quincy Conserve.

quinI have loved this song since the first time I heard it on a vinyl disc of New Zealand ‘SuperHits’ purchased in the late ‘80s for $6.99. I snaffled this LP for the usual suspects of Ray Columbus and the Invaders, Craig Scott, Alison Durban, Blerta, Mark Williams, Shane, The La De Das, Shona Laing, Bunny Walters et al…. ‘60s-’70s TV light ent. music, if you will.

super hits

Lazy cover. Great Compilation

It’s hard to remember but at the time (mid/late ‘80s) that style of music was deeply unfashionable, the ‘Classic Hits’ brand of radio was yet to be foisted on us, there was no internet to research or download music so relics like the Quincy Conserve were rare treats to be relished (pun intended). So, as a keen fan of music (and budding musician) I played it many times on the radio shows I DJ-ed on student radio station Radio U (later UFM). I loved the busyness of the drums, the horns, the barely repressed growl of the vocals, the happiness of the lyric and general feel… and the fact that I had only ever heard it on this strange, cheap compilation with an awful yellow cover.

Hip hooray, let’s smile for a day

Aire of Good Feeling, comin’ over me

quincyconserve3For me, it was a bit of a private treasure that I subsequently lost as music became digital and I was unable to enjoy my records (my vinyl collection sits in crates under the house awaiting the day a record player returns to my living room).

That was until just before Christmas when I saw this condiment on the shelf. quince conserveUnsure if the pun was intended, I had to buy it. Disclosure: I love Anathoth (jams, chutneys, relishes) and the quince conserve is typically outstanding (especially with blue cheese on a walnut oat cracker!) Of course, the one song I knew of the Quincy Conserve came back into my head along with a need to hear it. $100 would buy me an okay record player with a USB outlet but $1.97 got me the re-released track on i-Tunes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I LOVE the 21st century!

bruno

Bruno!

quincey liveYes, the busy jazz/Keith Moon drums were there (was it super-cool actor/drummer/wild man Bruno Lawrence? I hoped so at the time but doubt it now), but that’s not what struck me as I re-engaged with the old track, thrashing it every time I jumped in the car (it is the meatiest/truest stereo I own). It was the way the bass is up front pumping a repetitive scale/run that drives the tune along on a ride that doesn’t stop. quincy cYes, the horns punch and lift, but it is the distinctive vocals of Malcolm Hayman (threatening to explode but somehow held back like a team of restless bullocks) that share front of stage with the bass. The 30 to 40 times I have sung along to this track have been spent trying to understand (and mimic) his wonderful voice.

Song #2 is a bit of a segue that feels as natural as breathing to me: Rocks by Primal ScreamPrimal-Scream-Rocks-CD-Single-165379930_ML I wasn’t familiar with this song until I trawled through Singstar playlists a couple of years ago trying to find something to sing with Singstar buddies who tend to favour Abba and ‘80s kitsch. The straight forward boom-smack Stones/Faces/Sly Stone swagger is fun to sing (especially with a few drinks under the belt), and the lyrics are ironically simple and playful (as good lyrics should be),

Dealers keep dealing, thieves keep a-thieving,

whores keep a-whoring, junkies keep scoring

Rocks vid

What I look like Rocking Singstar

The repetition of form fits the big fat cookie-cutter production (floor toms start smacking along with tambourine, then gat track, then 2nd gat, then bass, then vox… and away we go!!!)

Best of all it fits my rock voice wonderfully…. especially the refrain where the horns sneak in with a sly honky-tonk piano,

Ain’t no use in pray-in’, that’s the way it’s stay-in’, bay-by

Johnny ain’t so cray-zy, he’s always got a line for the lay-dies… yeah, yeah, yeah

I loved doing this song to bits but my singing friends were never so keen, always pushing to do something ‘deceptively complex’ like Fernando.

Rocks Glastonbury 2013

Primals at Glastonbury 2013

Well, those drinking/singing buddies left town over a year ago so I stopped hearing that song until just before Christmas when I scored some cheap iTunes credit (vouchers 30% off makes singles cheaper that when I started buying them in 1979 at $1.99 each), and decided to add to my Singlesman playlist (I’ve always preferred singles to albums which are so often stuffed with fillers). Rocks had been in my head (ho ho) for some time (but not my ears) so I got a copy for $2.39 and, wow, does it sound good on my car stereo. Simone-Butler-enjoys-playing-bass-in-Primal-ScreamWhen those floor toms start as Good Feeling ends I feel like I’m right in the room with them, filled with a physical pleasure only certain sounds can bring. The production is astoundingly simple (and clever) slowly building to a stage full of big-band sound that never overwhelms the essential simplicity of the song.

So that’s how I came to belting out

Get your rocks off, get your rocks off honey!

at 7 am in the morning, on a busy motorway into Wellington, ignoring the strange looks, revealing in the harmonies of the beautiful black-girl BVs (who may in fact be white, but that’s the style) opening up the heavens.Primal-Scream-performing--006

Song #3 (and this is not a ranking just how they ended up on the playlist and, consequently, how the musical progression makes sense to me) is Ride Like the Wind by Christopher Cross, the only song of the three I was aware of when it was released. Christopher-Cross-Ride-Like-The-Win-176682It came out at the beginning of 1980, the start of a new decade, just before I became a teen, a few months after I started buying records. If Good Feeling is pure ‘70s and Rocks is solid ‘90s, this is that cold decade in between. Not that this song is cold, it is full of power and life (in a soft-rock kind of way) and is much more late ‘70s in feel than electro ‘80s.

solid gold 23

Best Solid Gold Hits LP from the year before Chris

I was no big fan when it came out, my 12-year old ears much preferred the power pop/new wave of the time (I loved Blondie’s Call Me which kept Ride from hitting #1). To me while the song was catchy, Christopher Cross was deeply unappealing so I never sought out the single. But I believe we used to play it at home courtesy of a Sold Gold Hits LP bought for me and my sisters by my parents (I loved those compilations and maybe they are part of why I remain a singles man to this day).

yacht_rock_press_photoHowever, I ended up buying a digital copy of the song two years ago after reading about the hilarious (fake) musical genre ‘Yacht Rock’, which is a grouping made up after the event to describe certain cheesy songs of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s (ultra-smooth California soft-rock like Toto, Stevie Nicks, Little River Band, Michael McDonald etc). I found the whole idea hilarious and bought several Yacht Rock tracks which I played for a bit before wearying of the jokey nostalgia.

England dan

Nights Are Forever?! No, they just feel that way, boys

(The most enduring has been I’d Really Love to See You Tonight by England Dan & John Ford Coley… the song that comes after Ride on my playlist… pure A.M. cheese and fun to sing with tortured passion, especially the astoundingly bizarre

stay and home and watch TV,

it really doesn’t matter much to me-e-e

And the way they dress, and the hair…wow, I remember when every man looked like that…still waiting for that particular fashion to come back).

chris & ron

Chris & Ron Burgundy. No joke

Anyway, a month or so before Christmas there was a random story on Huffington Post about Ride which said that Christopher Cross had written the song while on LSD in the desert. It seemed so improbable (given his image) that I had to listen to the song again. And through that re-engagement it ended up on my sing-every-day list. I started to see the drama of the narrative (a killer on the run fleeing for the border on a stolen horse), and how the tension was expressed in the clipped power of the vocal delivery, help back in the fear of flight. I loved trying to mimic it, and it even began to remind me of the way Malcolm Hayman approached Good Feeling, holding the voice in the gut, letting the repressed power speak for itself, hitting the final consonants hard (something singers usually resist/fudge, wanting the rounded smoothness of vowels).

It is the night, my body’s weak

I’m on the run, no time to speak

soft rock acid

Soft rock & acid. Don’t do it kids

And while Bobby Gillespie approaches Rocks in a quite a different manner (almost bored, joking) it too resists the urge to belt out and warble like a talent show Pop Idol or karaoke klutz. The power is held, hinted at, allowed to sneak out for a peak only when required.

Like the other two songs (Good Feeling and Rocks) it is a big production number requiring at least a dozen people on stage to perform. Ride is driven by congas and an unrelenting repetitive piano riff, but is essentially a trad. rock band set up beefed-up with the usual suspects of horn and string stabs, piano and backing vox (some courtesy of Mr Yacht Rock himself, Michael McDonald).

I doubt if anyone else on Earth has seen the connectedness of these three songs. Or sung them, one after the other, repeatedly. At volume.

Narrative is a strange beast. It comes both at the start, and at the end, while the tune is forming, and once the song is sung.

This post has been in my head since before Christmas, aching for some space to come out. It’s been a fiendishly busy time and I have only just (temporarily) stepped off the treadmill. But with these words excreted on to the page (or screen) every step becomes so much easier.

I no longer sing these songs every day; I sing three quite different songs.

But that, as they say, is another story.

England-Dan-&-John-Ford-8

‘Nuff said

Quiet Loud Listen Sing

You know, Dad… I really like songs that go quiet, then loud!

When my 6 year-old daughter said this to me the other week she said it with hand movements, pressing down on the quiet, then going up high for the loud!, just like a conductor. I resisted the immediate urge to say, well, then you need to hear the Pixies, Missy Moo, you’ll love This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven. Instead, I stayed quiet letting her finish the thought that had distracted her from her drawing.

I had put a video on the telly to learn a song I was unfamiliar with for an informal singing group I recently joined, and I took her dramatic statement as a critique of what I saw as quite a laid-back ditty.

I say my singing group is informal as it’s for people who enjoy singing and don’t seek the formal structure of church, choir or barber-shop. While we could be characterized as ‘enthusiastic amateurs’, we’re not as bad as that phrase implies. And while we often have the crazed energy of the Portsmouth Sinfonia (a wonderful orchestra of untrained musicians made famous by Brian Eno), we’re much more ‘on song’ than that deliberately experimental group (which disbanded once they became too competent). William Tell Overture – Portsmouth Sinfonia

The song I was trying to get familiar with was one I had never taken a shine to, I See Fire by Ed Sheeran; a # 1 hit in New Zealand (and Iceland, and Norway, and Sweden… countries that believe in hobbits, I guess). I See Fire

i-see-fire-duet

Firey duet

In the few seconds it took me to suppress my urge to whip off the song and put on the Pixies, my daughter looked up from the picture she was working on for her classroom boy-crush, and continued her thought saying, like Roar, Wire, Recover… and this one.

I was a little taken aback; by both the thoughtful analysis of a 6 year-old, and that she placed this movie theme song in her pantheon of great tunes – the ones we regularly sing along to in the car.

When it finished she insisted I played the video again, accompanying my vocals while adding purple to the picture she was drawing for Austin (it’s his favourite colour!) Fascinated by the sheet music I was (patchily) reading (I sing by ear rather than eye), she insisted we went through the tune half a dozen times; slipping into some lovely harmonies (I have always found it hard to stay on my note).

Roar

Katy and her little band do a wee Roar

Now, I need to make it clear that despite what I said above, we have never listened to Roar in the car. Nothing against Katy Perry; my daughter loves her. And while she as at the more acceptable end of the ‘stripper-pop’ spectrum, I just don’t need a copy of that song. Don’t get me wrong, I love pop and we listen to heaps of contemporary (and classic) commercial wonderful/awfulness, but I find that particular tune loses its vim fast, quickly becoming a flaccid grind. That said, I did happen to see the (former Mrs.) brand Perry perform the song ‘acoustically’ at the Grammy announcements and was impressed with the live energy (as opposed to the somehow soulless and cold single) so watched that video with my daughter many times.

But the Katy Perry that gets played and sung along to in the car (along with The Wire and Recover) is Dark Horse, as it stands above the rest to me. Dark Horse

  1. Her voice is pitched down in my range 2. I’m a sucker for the wonderfully low 808 drum sound, and in this track it has an addictive reggae-type feel that I just can’t get sick of. Yes, my girl is digging her idol but the lyrics she sings along to most, is Juicy J.’s rap, which kind of surprises me.
    Dark Horse 2

    Dark Horse? Garish filly

We also often dance to the lurid video, as she’s into things Egyptian at the moment. It’s a fun vid which courted controversy when a brain-dead stylist thought it would be cool to burn contemporary religious symbols. It’s not the only dull-skulled element, however, as the lyrics start with make me your Aphrodite… the Greek goddess of love… okay, so let’s make an Egyptian! video. Righto. Sure, Cleopatra, being a Ptolomy, was of Hellenistic stock… I can handle that, I’m not a total pedant (even though I seriously doubt that reference is going on). But what I find grates most of all is the need to put in some gratuitous pole dancing near the end… damn you to hell/Hades/Duat, stripper-pop, I hope Cerberus bites you on each cheek!

Cerberus_by_Mootdam

Good boy, Cerberus

Still, I can bite my tongue on those bits purely because 1. I enjoy other elements 2. My girl loves it 3. She hasn’t a clue what pole-dancing is 4. I love dancing with my girl.

I like to think I’m pretty liberal when it comes to lyrics, which by their very nature are hard to nail down. You may as well try to confine the wind in a box. But the Aphrodite/Egyptian thing pales when I think of another song I quite enjoyed until some particularly numb-nutted lyrics became apparent.

kanye

Awesome Black Skinhead stylings

It’s Kanye West’s Black Skinhead, which is a massively addictive production with some gorgeous sounds (and interestingly provocative lyrics). However, when I realised that in the chorus he was singing/rapping I keep it 300, like the Romans…300 bitches were the Trojans. You WHAT?! They’re Spartans in 300, you gimp… fighting Persians… Sheesh, was Kanye too busy discussing lip gloss with wifey in that bit of the film? I simply can’t find a way to see it as anything but arrogant and dull-headed so it has killed the song for me. Black Skinhead

chilton

Alex with the Box Tops

But it doesn’t always have to be the case. For instance, I love Alex Chilton but when in Bangkok he sings… Here’s a little song that’s gonna please ya, about a little town down in Indonesia…Bangkok!… Bangkok! I can’t help but wince. But it doesn’t kill the song for me. Would you honestly expect geographical knowledge from an American? (Especially one who became a star at 16 singing the #1 hit The Letter with the Box Tops. Early success always messes with your head). Bangkok – Alex Chilton  The Letter – The Box Tops

Getting too pedantic about lyrics is a no-win as, like poetry, it’s all about play. But we all have our limits. I love lots of I See Fire but hate the… if we should all die tonight, then we should all go down together… refrain as the glorification of martyrdom just sticks in my craw (especially in what is essentially a kids movie… albeit one for big kids).

And Sex Pistol Steve Jones always says how much he winced when Johnny Rotten forced the rhyme… I am the anti-Christ!, I am an anar-chist!… in their debut single. But it sure made a glorious announcement of intent. Anarchy In the U.K.

mark-ronson-amy-winehouse

Mark Ronson: Producer to the stars, DJ/Musician extraordinaire

Haim

Haim employ way better stylists than Katy Perry

But enough of what’s not to like, here’s why I love the other song my daughter mentioned, The Wire by Haim. I came across this by chance, found it didn’t catch me immediately but was soon listening out for little hooks secreted throughout… the organ line that fades up in the chorus, the distorted bass run, the unexpected guitar solo, the big glam drums, the lyrics I can’t quite get a handle on. After hearing it a dozen times I decided it must be a session singer with a DJ/producer mashing up the elements a la Mark Ronson (who I love). But I was wrong: it is 3 sisters from LA with a strong musical pedigree, hence the vocals which blend so you don’t know that the lead vocals have shifted. Having played in a covers band with their parents in L.A. the middle sister became a session guitarist, was picked to play live with Jenny Lewis, then Julian Casablancas, and Cee-Lo Green. The eldest went off and got a musicology degree and then, having learned all the tricks, they dragged in little sis’ to have a proper crack at the scene. The Wire – Haim

Haim Lorde

Haim helping out childe pop star Lorde

Clearly, I’m in love with the results. Whether this first album is all the best stuff of many years of work brushed up beautifully, is yet to be seen/heard. Although they’re nothing like Mark Ronson, they’re akin as he also had a (greater) musical pedigree (his mother married the guitarist in Foreigner and Sean Lennon was a childhood friend).

Somebody To Love Me – Mark Ronson (ft. Boy George)

In case you think I have a crush on Haim, it’s not just about the girls. The often un-featured drummer’s dad was in 3 Dog Night, and the subtle and seductive rhythm tracks are a big part of the overall appeal for me.

Chvrches

Chvrches

Which leaves the other song my girl loves, Recover by Chvrches. They are exactly what I mistook Haim for… a couple of knob twiddlers and a chick singer. They seem okay, but I don’t want to sing along as my daughter does. However, as she can sing pretty much all the words I’m more than happy to play it whenever she asks to hear it. Recover – Chvrches

That’s the thing about music, we all hear different things. The hooks either grab us or make us recoil in pain… or float right through us as if we were made of jelly.

As a child, before I started getting involved in music, I always used to wonder why songs needed verses. After all, I reasoned, the choruses were always the best bits. I was yet to learn the power of dynamic range; quiet and loud. But as I matured I started to find things to love in all parts of songs, even in ones that weren’t to my taste. Be it the sound of the drums, lyrical image or turn of phrase, bewitching melody or power of the bass.

I realise everyone doesn’t feel this way, preferring set styles and actively despising others.

icehouse

There’s a great Aussie movie called Mullet. It’s about the fish, not haircuts (no Icehouse, as I recall)

My daughter certainly doesn’t like everything I play and will always tell me if she doesn’t like a particular song (for instance, she loves The Flowers/Icehouse We Can Get Together but really dislikes Great Southern Land, no matter how I try).

We Can Get Together – Icehouse       Great Southern Land

Occasionally, when we drive in the garage and I am rushing to get upstairs to light the fire, do homework and make dinner, she will ask if we can hear the song we are listening to through to the end. As a musician, soundman and tireless lover of music, I’m always happy to let the music resolve. (The first time this happened was with John Stewart’s Gold… one of her old favourites… a song I have never tired of since I first heard it in the summer of 1979. The smooth Rhodes piano… Stevie Nick’s backing vocals… pure gold). john stewart Gold – John Stewart

I’m glad my girl has her own opinion and tastes. It’s as it should be.

Quiet, loud, alone, all together.

Wait for it, wait for it…

…And end.

 

Secret track: Stray Cat Strut – The group I sing with…